Seven weeks in to training for my 50-miler.
Overall, things are good. I'm building volume and am able to handle (and recover from) longer and longer runs, my speed is increasing, and I'm losing bodyweight. I only hope my progress over the next few months will be enough.
I've played around with different weekly schedules, trying to find a rhythm, something my body likes. Still tinkering but I'm trying to keep things as consistent as possible.
From the injury side of things, there have been no real issues. Some minor patellofemoral pain, but I seem to have identified the cause and am now successfully managing it (more on that later).
Here are the biggest lessons I've learned over the first phase of my training.
Don't be one dimensional too early
The first few weeks of my training my goal was simply to get in as much quality, low intensity running as I possibly could. I would have 4 back-to-back days of 60-90 minute runs, followed by a rest day, and then a 2-2.5 hour run on Saturday. I think it was too aggressive and I paid for it with some early warning signs of injury and burnout, and was forced to take a week off.
It could be argued that I had hit a state of overreaching, possibly a good thing, and that I gave my body a strong dose of training from which it adapted.
But looking back now, I don't think I needed to only be running. I could have benefitted from some other activities and movements.
Since week 5, I've substituted a few runs per week for low intensity cycling, have brought back some good quality strength training, and have somewhat calmed down in my rabid push for more, more, more running.
Patience. It will come. While I do need to play the volume game, I can develop my aerobic fitness just fine with some non-impact cycling, while saving my legs for higher quality run workouts. In fact, with a mixed approach, I'm actually able to get in more training than I ever could have with a running-only plan. Last week was my first 10-hour training week and it was totally manageable. This week I'm going for 11-12 hours, 8 of which are zone 2 workouts.
As the event date gets closer, I will have to switch back to mainly running and event-specific training. But for now, it's all about aerobic development, high-quality running, and health.
Water, nutrition, and sleep actually matter (who knew)
A few Fridays ago, I had a busy day at work. When I wasn't coaching, I was in front of the computer. Didn't eat much and totally forgot to drink. And I don't exactly remember what we had for dinner that night, but I know it involved, a lot of hot sauce, dairy, and wine. Not the best combo. Tums for dessert.
Sleep was marginal at best.
Saturday morning's 11-mile long run wasn't terrible, but something strange happened. Although my pace and RPE were normal, my heart rate was a good 10 beats above what it usually is for that effort. While normally settling in the low 140s for longer runs, this time I could barely keep it contained at 155. At first I thought my watch was broken. Normally, a 155 heart rate would mean my breathing was heavy and my lungs were burning.
But I felt totally fine. The running felt easy. Of course heart rate will fluctuate a little bit here and there, but this was significant. I was totally baffled and considered either slowing down, or taking it as a sign to pack it in.
I decided to keep going, and run by my RPE rather than my heart rate. I'm not sure if this was correct, but it felt like the right thing to do rather than slow down and become a slave to my watch. My form was fine, my effort was fine, but something was wrong with my ticker. Oh well. Just to be sure I wasn't running harder than I should, I decided to nose-breathe the rest of the run. If my respiration crept up, I'd know it fast.
This is the real value in wearing a heart rate monitor. It's not meant to be a dictator of pace, nor is it a true indicator of effort. It's just a piece of information. Combined with other data, there's a lot to be learned.
In this particular case, it forced me to think about what kinds of factors could cause such an unusual spike. Heart rate can be influenced by many things: temperature, stress, sleep, hormone balance, and hydration to name a few.
Of course, it's impossible to know exactly what, if it was just one thing, was the culprit. But it didn't take too much soul searching to realize that I hardly drank any water the day before, and had loaded up on jalapeno peppers and shiraz just 12 hours earlier. Yeah...probably don't do that next week.
For the past year, I've been running in nothing but New Balance Minimus trail shoes. Although I love my NB's, they're extremely minimal--no cushioning or support. While this wasn't a big deal running 10-miles a week, my feet just couldn't take it any longer with the mileage I was starting to accumulate.
After much internet searching and YouTube review watching, I bit the bullet and dropped $200 on a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.0's.
Size 13 baby.
And oh my holy Jesus...what a difference. My first run in my new kicks was, in a word: glorious. I literally wasn't aware that it was possible not to have fatigued feet after 90 minutes of running. This was a game changer.
Ironically, these shoes with their 20mm of cushioning, boasted a zero drop build and extremely wide toe box, and could be considered more "natural" than my Minimus' (Minimi?), which carried a 4mm heel drop and very tight quarters for my toes. I'm curious to see how they will hold up, but I think I'll be buying Altras again.
I'm too old not to stretch
Like I said, the first few weeks my training was pretty one-dimensional. Not only did I neglect other activities, it was devoid of almost all stretching and soft tissue work.
I don't know why I think I can get away with neglecting these things, especially since I'm such an advocate for them with my athletes.
Anyway, the patellofemoral pain I mentioned earlier was due to a hypertonic quadricep muscle that was pulling down on the left half of my pelvis, causing an apparent leg length difference. Not a good asymmetry problem to have for a runner. Since discovering this, I've been religious about aggressive foam rolling and mobility work, and the problem has pretty much resolved itself.
My mobility/corrective routine is all about maintaining as much pelvic balance and alignment as possible. That means lots of deep breathing postural exercises, ab work, glute and hamstring strengthening (especially the left side), and quad mobility / extensibility work.
That's it for now. Learned a few things, and was reminded of a few things that I already should have been aware of. But I guess that's the difference between knowledge and wisdom.